By Jerry Chandler
ConCarolinas is multi-genre, multi-media convention that has at this point been plugging away in North Carolina for the better part of the last two decades. I’ve been an on and off attendee since 2014, so I’ve seen some of the growth of the convention in recent years as well as seen a couple of nice locations for the event. Although, I have to admit, of the four ConCarolinas I’ve been to, this one was a little different in more ways than one. One reason was something everyone may have noticed. The other thing was a tad more personal.
This year’s ConCarolinas started off on seemingly unsteady footing long before the official start of the convention weekend. The general organizing of the convention running up to the event took a hit due to some of the primary behind the scenes people encountering some not so insignificant health issues. Matters would get worse still when the convention found itself smack in the middle of controversy over a guest who become on instant social/political hot button issue in today’s fandom and its growing polarization over such matters. The latter matter I’m not going to get into in more detail now because the detail is not immediately relevant to this article. If you’re curious, it was all over the internet and can be easily looked up. The fact that it took place and some of the fallout around it is relevant, however, as it contributed to a lot of people wondering just how rocky a convention weekend this might end up being.
Fortunately, for those of us who attended, all of the pre-convention chaos and problems did not seem to have had a hugely noticeable impact on the event itself when it came to being an attendee. There were some snafus during the convention weekend as there are with every convention, but, by and large, everything on the convention floor during the weekend seemed to run as smoothly as these things do at a convention.
I’ll get to the more personal bit later.
One of the longtime highlights of ConCarolinas has been their short film festival. This year’s short film festival highlighted a number of talented indie filmmakers and ended with some very deserving accolades being given to the filmmakers involved. Kudos to Bill Mulligan and Jason Gilbert for running a great festival this year. I’d love to be able to write about it in greater detail, but there were reasons I’ll get into in a bit (See- Reference to personal bit above) as to why I wasn’t able to stick my head in as often this year as I have in prior years. Oh, some extra promotion for a film. Seek out Hot Questions if it plays at a festival near you.
Some of the offered musical and comedic entertainment this year was appropriately geeky and fun. Acts included Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, The Nefarious Ferrets, Mikey Mason, The Blibbering Humdingers, Frenchy & the Punk, and Valentine Wolfe among others. Plus, well, karaoke.
One of the nice things about ConCarolinas for me has always been the quality of literary guests they’ve had over the years. This year saw some writers who are more noticeably visible on fandom’s radar like Seanan McGuire and Faith Hunter as well as writers who are deservedly starting to break through into greater visibility like Bobby Nash, Alexandra Christian, Michael G. Williams, and the previously mentioned Jason Gilbert among many, many others.
I could easily just start listing people for another 2,000 words, but I’ll simply suggest you go here. ConCarolinas always manages to get a nice selection of writers, editors, filmmakers, and other creative types who are not just there to sell their merchandise. You’ll find a good number of “how-to” and advice based panels and workshops on the convention schedule, as well as find the various guests on panels just talking about whatever subjects they love and hopefully entertaining the hell out of the audience.
In general, ConCarolinas has always been a fun convention, and the people who attend it have typically been a huge part of why it’s fun. This was true when my family and I first found the convention back in 2014, and it’s been largely true every year we’ve been back. This year was a lot of fun because of the people who were there and the things the convention had for attendees to see, hear, do, and enjoy. Then there was also that personal thing I’ve referenced several times now.
ConCarolinas 2018 was already shaping up to be a different experience for me than prior ConCarolinas some few months before the weekend got here. This was my first ConCarolinas as a guest rather than just as an attendee. Just on the basics of it, it meant going in that I would get to do something I’m fairly good at; talking endlessly about things that get my geek on. Fortunately, they had some very good moderators on hand to make sure I gave some of the air in the various rooms to the other guests as well. Yes, as much as I can go on when writing, I can go on much, much worse when talking if not governed by a fair but stern moderator.
I should say here that I owe a huge bit of thanks to Bill Mulligan for this. The convention head was mostly unfamiliar with me and had way too many extra issues to deal with running up to this year’s convention to properly vet me, and I may not have been there as a guest at all when all things were said and done. It was (I gathered from her comments a few months ago) largely him vouching for my abilities to handle whatever commitment was asked of me and me as a potential guest that convinced her to decide to take a chance on me. So, yeah, I owe him one.
Of course, I knew I owed him one long before the convention’s first day was about to kick off. Wednesday before con, I really ended up owing him one for vouching for me as he did those months earlier. Why? Because had I not been a guest at this year’s convention, an opportunity at the convention would never have dropped into my lap. It started with a phone call from ConChair and Guest Relations head Jada Diaz.
The convention had Adam Copeland scheduled as a Sunday only special guest. If you don’t fully recognize the name, he was Edge in the WWF/WWE for years before leaving wrestling due to injuries and going on to act in shows like The Flash, Haven, and Vikings. A local personality was slated to be there Sunday morning to do a live Q&A styled discussion with Adam in one of the larger convention ballrooms. The local personality slated to do this dropped out at the last minute for reasons unknown to me.
I’m assuming she must have hit the bottom of the barrel with regards to contacting people she’d worked with and trusted who might have been able to fill in but passed on it for various reasons, because she ended up taking a huge leap of blind faith by calling me and asking if I could fill in and handle the Sunday morning panel. When asked on the phone if I could handle this, I, of course, did what any unprepared person does when presented with a request that causes their brain to shut down in that moment. I immediately said yes in a fairly calm and confidant manner before launching into a three-day freak-out as my brain processed what I was going to be doing some few minutes after hanging the phone up.
I’m think it worked out well. I had a number of people in the hallways stopping me and telling me after the event that they enjoyed the Edge panel and that I did a good job as an interviewer/facilitator for the event. And, so far, no one has informed me that I sucked at it, so there’s that.
It was an awesome convention experience considering how big of a fan of his I was during his wrestling years as well as being a fan of his genre work on television. Plus, he came across as a really fantastic guy and made my kids feel like they totally reeked of awesomeness when we were backstage waiting for the panel to start. So, not for the first time, I need to publicly thank Jada for taking that blind leap of faith on me and trusting me with that opportunity. It really made my weekend.
While I’m thanking people, I need to thank all of the following.
Michael G. Williams
Joey Paquette Starnes
These are the people who were my fellow panelists and who made the talks so much fun as well as a few of the panel moderators that had the unenviable task of keeping some of us (like, say, me) in line, on point, and not talking for hours on end without letting someone else get a word in edgewise.
Plus, a special thanks to two of my fellow panelists who made us all laugh to the point of distraction every time they were in the same room together.
If you see any of those names on a panel at a convention near you; go and see them. You’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Plus, buy their stuff.
Also, a big thanks to anyone and everyone who showed up and made this year’s ConCarolinas so much fun.
Oh, and recorded panels will be coming in the next few months.
Oh, and recorded panels will be coming in the next few months.